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The storm rolled across the mountains just down river from us. Lightening lit up the distant sky as my wife and I nodded at each other and motioned towards the shore. Our 5 year old was in the canoe with her and our 3 year old was in the kayak with me. It was time to get off the water. We found a little spot of sand and resigned to watching the dark clouds roll along. Shortly my girls started singing songs to pass the time and I smiled at the memories being made on the river side.

It wasn't long and we were back on the river paddling through the rain, headed for the takeout before the next storm hit. Our 5 year old was getting her first taste of being a true canoeist. She had her Bending Branches Twig paddle and was learning to catch eddies and surf with her mother.

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As we paddled hard into the rain, we passed some of the old time, shallow draft cargo boats rolling down the river for the annual Batteau Festival. The rain pattering on our heads my 3 year old, sitting between my legs, giggled and playfully admonished the sky to stop raining.

Our 5 year old called back, "This is the best vacation ever!"

And as another batteau floated by I heard the helmsman tell his shipmate, "Those girls get it. The river is good."

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For Father's Day weekend my wife had booked a primitive camping spot at James River State Park, Gladstone, Va. It's a great park to visit with a number of river floats available.

We'd arrived on Sunday afternoon, set up camp, and then hit the river for a 2 mile, sunset float that is contained within the park boundaries.

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We even wet a line or two, though the water level was up and a bit muddy. That didn't stop our 3 year old from trying though.

Kayak fishing is something I'm quite passionate about and this trip gave me the chance to test out the new Jackson Kayak Mayfly on the river. The original intent for this boat was a fly fishing vessel, and it excels in that regard. It's on the heavy side, but once on the water, it performs very well. The bow is not designed for fast moving rivers and water did come over the bow. But it handled on the river just fine. And the flat deck is perfect for sitting a toddler in front of you.

"Umm, daddy, there is water in the kayak."

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Day 2 at James River State Park we took advantage of the livery shuttle service and floated the 7 mile section from Bent Creek to the park. The day called for 100% chance of thunderstorms, so we hit the river knowing that we'd probably have to get out on occasion. And that is how we found ourselves on a sandy stretch along the James River singing songs and watching the storm clouds pass us by.

People often ask about the logistics of taking kids on the river and camping, etc. From my experience, the first couple of times will be rough. Do not lose heart and abandon the mission. You'll learn what works best for your family and your kids. The true joy of these trips comes later, when you've ironed out all the kinks and figured out the best way to orchestrate a good time for the whole family.

Our 3 year old is still in the "entertain me" phase, but our 5 year old has officially entered the "teach me" phase, and it's super cool!
So here are some simple things you can do to ensure both styles of kids are having a good time.

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*PFD's aka Life Jackets are essential. We've got matching Astral Otter jackets for the two girls. Our 5 year old loved it. Our 3 year old was still too small for it. We switched her over to her normal toddler puddle jumper. But the leg straps on the Otter created a great harness style fit for our older daughter. Get comfortable, effective PFDs.

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*Know where the the spots are on the river that you can stop and play. Kids need to get out and explore all the sightes they are seeing. Plan for lunch spots, swimming spots, etc.

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*With our eldest, the swimming spots now offer us a chance to teach her important lessons. This trip my wife took her into the little rapid and explained to her what to do if she ever fell out of her boat. Relax back into your PFD, and get your feet up. You do not want to try and stand as you may entrap your foot and then get stuck fighting the rapids strength with one of your limbs pinned. Nope. The best idea is to get your feet up, and then re-direct them downstream so that if there are any rocks, it will be your feet that hit first, not your head.

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*This trip also offered us the chance to instruct our eldest on catching river eddies, and peeling out of eddies. She loved it!

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*Our youngest prefers lots of snacks and the occasional theological discussion.
"Does God hate?" -her
"No, I believe God is Love." - me
"Where is God?" - her
"God is everywhere. God is in the trees, in the sky, and in the water." - me
"So, God is a scuba diver?" - her

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When it comes to camping, it's easy to figure out. Campfires have been mesmerizing people for eons, and they'll entertain your kids.

*My wife had prepped a couple meals ahead of time. She marinated and seasoned some chicken, sweet potatoes and spring onions to grill one night.  And then she had prepared some burrito / quesadilla mix that just needed to be heated up for the second night. After quality river time, you don't want to fuss too much over dinner. The kids will be hungry, have food ready quick.

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Oh, and roasting marshmallows for smores will go a long way towards ensuring that your kids have a memorable time.

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In the end, on the last day as we packed up, we broke out the electronics. Don't be ashamed if you need to combine old world tech and new world tech. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of watching my girls marvel at both fires in front of them.

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We've been taking our kids on the river every summer since they were 9-10 months old. We've had some trying times, some meltdowns, etc. But there have always been fun moments packed in as well. And now we seem to be hitting a pretty sweet stretch.  They know the deal, and they look forward to it with genuine enthusiasm.

As we loaded up the truck to head for home on our last day, both girls asked when we could go camping and canoeing again. They didn't want to leave.

We've all become so wedded to our working lives, our digital lives, our burdens and dissatisfactions that we're often too distracted to recognize the wonderment of this life. I do a lot of work online and know for a fact that I can be too engrossed in my phone. Camping and canoeing granted the girls my uninterrupted attention. They ate it up, and so did I.

In the past our parents had radio, newspapers and TV to distract them. For parents now, we have all those things plus the huge distraction of the internet. I recognized sitting around the camp table, saying grace before our meal, that the habits formed within the warmth of our 'core four' will stay with our girls their whole lives. Do I want them to model my phone surfing behavior or their parent's river surfing behavior?

My greatest fear in life is being a detriment to my children's growth and happiness. This past weekend I remembered that if we keep camping and canoeing together, I'll have nothing to worry about.

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